Monday, December 24, 2012

Getting the Details Right

I am as guilty as the next person.  At this time of year, I love to decorate the house for Christmas, and one of the prized possessions on display is a lovely Nativity set.

Each year, I try to arrange the pieces in as natural a looking scene as possible.  And yet...and yet, deep down I know that I am not getting the details right.

Why? Because it simply didn't happen this way.  How can I say something so outrageous, especially at this time of year.  Because--I will tell you why.

When I was in college, I took a wonderful course in the Gospels from one of my all time favorite professors.  He taught us to read each Gospel carefully and in its own right.  When you do that, you will come to understand that each Gospel was written by a particular author for a particular purpose.  So, the details the writer was selecting were intended to deliver a very specific message.

So, the writers of Mark and John simply skip the Christmas story.  That's right.  Not one mention in either Gospel of any of the details we associate with this time of year.

That leaves Matthew and Luke.  What have we done with their accounts?  Well, we have mashed them together into one grand scheme, rather like a Hollywood production.  Cue the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary what is to come (Luke).  Cue Joseph planning to break the engagement because Mary is pregnant (Matthew).Cue Caesar Augustus sending out a decree to have "all the world registered" (Luke).  Cue Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem where she gives birth and places the baby in a manger (Luke).

So, who tells us about the shepherds?  (Luke)
The angels singing? (Luke)
How about the wise men visiting? (Matthew)
And what of Joseph and Mary journeying to Egypt because Herod plans to kill all the baby boys? (Matthew)

Do you begin to see the issue?  We have taken two separate accounts that do NOT duplicate details and have made of them one story.  And that story gives rise to the nativity scene.

So no where in the Gospel accounts do we ever have a grand scene with everyone coming to the stable.  And what about that stable?  Who tells us about that?  No one.  That too has been part of the presumption.  The brief cryptic statement in Luke's gospel is that the baby was laid in a manger "because there was no room in the inn."  Of course, our presumption is that an inn must have been like a motel, sort of the Bethlehem Marriott or some such.  One writer, however, suggests that what the statement may be referring to is that there was no room in the guest room.  Not quite as picturesque, is it?

In the process we tend to lose the reason that the account in Matthew focused on details such as the visit by the wise men.  And, where did the THREE wise men detail come from? Again, no where--except that there are three gifts mentioned.

We also lose the reason that the account from Luke focused on lowly shepherds.

Oh, I will keep my nativity.  But I won't assume that the story that is being told is one grand continuous uninterrupted narrative.  Because it isn't. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


We are overwhelmed with the incredibly sad news of the events on December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut. 

One of the most wrenching details for me was about the way frantic parents had gathered awaiting news of their children.  One by one, children and parents were reunited, until—finally—there was only a handful of parents remaining.  While there was a protocol that was to be followed, apparently the governor of Connecticut thought that prolonging those parents’ agony was simply cruel, so he straightforwardly told them—if your child isn’t with you, they aren’t coming home.
Some people have criticized the governor for being so blunt.  But, his approach was the right one.

I don’t know if you have ever been in a situation where you have to be the one to tell the bad news.  I have. 
Many years ago, my father-in-law suffered a catastrophic health event, a dissecting aortic aneurysm.  He was rushed to the local hospital, and family members were quickly summoned.  We all gathered in the critical care unit awaiting news of his status as he underwent diagnostic tests.  During that time, the assembled family decided that someone needed to travel to his home town and be with his elderly mother.  That lot fell to me.

When I reached the home, I tried to comfort Grandma as best I could.  My father-in-law was her eldest child and very much a mainstay for her.  Suddenly, the phone rang.  When I answered, it was my husband calling to inform me that his father had not pulled through, and had died even before he could be operated on.  Something in my tone of voice tipped Grandma off—and, even though “the plan” was to wait until the pastor arrived to tell her, she demanded: Is he dead?

I had a choice—I could have postponed responding, temporizing and delaying the news until the pastor arrived, or I could answer her straightforwardly and honestly.  I chose the latter.

I replied simply: Yes, Grandma, he’s gone.  Immediately she began wailing and rocking back and forth.  After a bit, as I held her, she calmed down a bit.  I read some of the Psalms to her as she quieted.  Of course, my immediate telling in no way lessened her grief, but it gave her immediate information instead of making her stay in a suspended state, fearing and guessing the worst all the while hoping against hope it wasn’t true.

Of course, I don’t know if Governor Malloy was going through a similar calculus, but his decision to tell immediately was a small kindness in the midst of horrific grief. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


This is a season of waiting.

The church of my childhood was not one to observe the liturgical year.  So, it was with some puzzlement that I slowly adapted to the concept of seasons of the church year--including Advent.  For years, our church has eschewed singing most Christmas carols in services until Christmas Eve.  And for years, I have chafed at this restriction.

I had conversations--not arguments--with our pastor (who is also a friend, and who recently retired) about the available carols that could be sung without breaking that Advent message.  And sometimes we might even sing on of those carols--for example "Once in Royal David's City."

But still, our services during Advent continue to draw on the repertoire of Advent hymns--most of which are in a minor key, and are usually sung in unison.  I guess to appreciate the import of that last description, you need to know that I am an alto, through and through, and I love--make that LOVE--to sing in four part harmony.

"O Come, O Come, Emanuel" or "Watchman, Tell Us of the Night" just doesn't put me in a Christmas spirit.

And then, last Sunday, our new pastor gave new meaning to me that helps me understand and even appreciate Advent.  He said:
"The work of these weeks before Christmas, then, this time that the church calls Advent, this season of pregnant hope and possibility, is not so much to prepare for the birth of the baby that happened long ago but to welcome the Christ in us in ever deepening ways. It is a time to get the nursery of our hearts and the manger of our minds ready to engage the ministry of Christ in us more completely and creatively than ever before."

Suddenly, it clicked--and I finally get it. 

When we focus on Christmas--on the birth of a baby--we forget that what preceded that birth was nine months of being pregnant.  Nine months is a long time.  Oh, certainly, it can pass by quickly, but when you are waiting for that nine months to go by, it can be a long time.

A long time for the expectant mother and father.  A long time for family members--grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and all manner of cousins.  All waiting.  Waiting for one singular day.  Waiting for a birth.

And so, I now understand Advent in a way I had not understood it previously.  So, thank you to our new pastor for giving me insight.

And thank you to our daughter and son-in-law for giving us a very personal example.  Only a few more days--as we all wait.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

50 Shades of Brown

When I returned to teaching college English, I helped select a textbook of essays for students to read and then discuss.  We selected a text with a wonderful variety of engaging essays on a wide array of topics.  One of the essays, written in 1998 by Luis Urea and titled “Nobody’s Son”, included the observation that by the year 2050 “Latinos will be the majority population of the world. Not only will America be ‘brown,’ but it will also be the home of the new Democrats.”

I posed the question to the class—what do you think will happen in the U.S. when the majority population is brown?  Well, swaggered one student, it won’t matter because whites will still hold the power.  And, I swear, he snickered at his brilliance.  Maybe this year, that former student voted for Romney—and like Romney must have been stunned when Romney didn’t win.
Welcome to the new normal, as they say.  Or, as they say—this is not your father’s Oldsmobile.

There have been many analyses of the reasons why the 2012 presidential election turned out the way it did.  I can’t compete with all that greater wisdom, but I find it noteworthy that, as far back as 1998, someone such as Luis Urea anticipated the impact of a political party’s stance on issues would have on voting response.  He wrote: “most Mexican immigrants—both ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’—would vote Republican if given a chance, except the Republicans scare them.”
This wisdom was something that Bill O’Reilly and Karl Rove seemed unable to fathom.  Karl Rove’s meltdown on Fox News was particularly embarrassing, excruciating, and delicious to watch.  Perhaps—like too many Republicans, he has ignored facts for so long that, when faced with indisputable statistical evidence, he simply couldn’t believe that the skewed polls the Romney campaign had been relying on toward the end of the campaign could have been wrong.  But wrong they were, and wrong Rove was. 

When it came to Romney’s explanation as to why he lost, he also ignored the numbers, focusing instead on a variation on his 47% theme.  Obama—according to Romney—simply gave too many gifts to too many groups of people and Romney couldn’t compete with that.  Gifts?  Oh, right—such as forgiveness of college loan interest, or health care, or amnesty for children born in the U.S. or brought here as infants by parents who were illegal immigrants.  Sounds rather like Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus.”
I found it fascinating if not troubling that Romney saw those things as gifts—with a clear implication that the recipients were not worthy to receive—but did not see his own plans as gifts.  What about more tax breaks for the rich?  What about privatizing some of the essential elements of government so investors could reap the profits?  Romney also didn’t seem to realize that he himself benefits from “gifts”—a tax structure that grants him a far lesser tax burden than it does most of the people he disparaged.

But I digress.
If you want to delve into the numbers a bit more, here’s a fascinating graphic that looks at where Obama’s strength was, and where Romney’s was. Note that the trends that have continued to move in Obama’s favor are voters of Hispanic background. 

We are now two weeks past the election—and Romney has had his say.  Amazingly, other leaders in the Republican Party are distancing themselves from the “too many gifts” approach.  And, some of these leaders are even beginning to recognize that, if the Republican Party is going to survive into the future, it has to begin to reckon with the new normal.  Whites are now becoming a minority—as Bill O’Reilly observed, with a touch of amazement—and now there are fifty shades of brown. 

P.S. Karl Rove's new job (thanks to


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Another One Bites the Dust

Well, it’s happened again. A powerful man is revealed to have been engaging in an extramarital affair. In this instance—the story of General David Petraeus—is a touch unusual. Instead of two women being involved, there are three—the wife, the “other” woman, and the “other, other” woman. So, not a triangle but a square? Rectangle?

The ingredients are so painfully predictable—the man is older, powerful, well-known.  The wife is also older, but for her age does not lend a cache of charm, but a burden of being (perhaps) past her prime.  She has been the home base while the general fought wars overseas.  True, she has her own career, and has made contributions working on alleviating the needs of military families.  Oh, how ironic. 

The other woman is younger, in need of a mentor, and—I wouldn’t be surprised—adept at charming the older man with flattery.  As the story is told, she made the initial contact with the general, and eventually got herself embedded (the irony piles up) with the military in Afghanistan while she worked to expand her doctoral dissertation into a full length book.  With the recent revelations of “the affair” sales of the book have soared. 

As for the other “other” woman, nothing is known—except that she apparently received threatening anonymous emails.  Because of their nature, it seems she contacted the FBI.  And thus began the investigation that unraveled the situation.  Of course, her presence does raise a niggling question—why was she perceived as a threat to the erstwhile mistress?  Don’t even want to go there.
Do you hear echoes of similar recent stories?  The New York Times chronicled the sad litany of some of the name of those involved in these affairs—Alexander Hamilton, Warren Harding, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon Baines Johnson.  And that doesn’t even bring us to the current transgressors—Gary Hart, William Clinton, David Vitter, John Ensign, Mark Souder, Anthony Weiner, John Edwards.  I even edited this list to shorten it!

So, what’s the lesson? That power attracts? That forbidden fruit is just too tempting? That great men fall? That we are all flawed? That in a digital age, there is no such thing as secrecy?

The truth is—I don’t know.  I do know that this particular revelation made me especially sad—sad for all involved.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature

I wonder how many of you will recall that commercial from a number of years ago.  The tag line of the commercial was “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” whereupon Mother Nature stands up and with a wave of her hands—boom--thunder and lightning.

I couldn’t help but recall that commercial with its closing line as the predicted Hurricane Sandy bore down on the East Coast of the United States.  Even now, a day after the hurricane has blown through central Pennsylvania—on its way to the Midwest—the storm is wreaking incredible havoc.  Manhattan, New York City has been hugely affected—power stations exploding disrupting power, cranes dangling from building construction sites, cars trapped in or out of Manhattan with bridges and tunnels closed. 
Of course, post-hurricane there will be debates—has global climate change made such super-storms inevitable?  I have read enough to know that climatologists are careful to talk about long-term trends, and steer us amateurs away from drawing hasty conclusions about individual weather events being caused by global climate change.  So, they are comfortable attributing the many heat records that were broken this past summer and the widespread extended drought to global climate change.  They are less comfortable attributing a single storm such as Hurricane Sandy to global climate change.

I find this whole topic maddening.  It is emblematic of a weird tendency in the U.S.—the tendency to subject something that either is (or isn’t) to a popularity contest.  So, polls are conducted to determine if people BELIEVE in global climate change.  And, while you might not think something such as global climate change would be an indicator of one’s political leaning, we find that depending on whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, global climate change is or is not happening.  85% of Democrats say there “is solid evidence of warming” as compared to 48% of Republicans who accept that.  (Source: Pew Research Center) (Incidentally, more than 70% of so-called Tea Party adherents do NOT believe that global climate change is occurring.)
Where my anxiety goes off the scale is when the political ramifications come to play in WHO provides leadership in our national governmental structures on these issues.  Where the Republican platform four years ago had an extensive section on climate issues, the whole topic of climate has disappeared from the Republican platform.  Thankfully, the Democratic platform still deals with global climate change.  I know, I know—the platforms don’t mean much.  They simply give a snap-shot of what matters to the respective parties.

It should come as no surprise that our regard for science—or, I should say, our lack of regard—has an effect on our success in science education.  A recent report found that the U.S. is lagging behind many countries in various subject scores.  As the report notes, we might have won more Olympic gold medals, but we aren’t winning gold in education areas including science.  Who ranks first in science?  China.  The U.S. ranks 23rd.  (Source: Huffington Post article)

I do not blame our public education system for this decline—not at all.  I blame the pervasive attitude in the U.S. that science just doesn’t matter.  After all, you can subject it to a popular vote—if most people don’t believe it (whatever IT is: global climate change, evolution, you name it), then it must not be true.  Not only is it NOT true, but it has to be disputed at every turn.  Layer on top of that scorn a constant drum beat of fascination with the most mindless topics imaginable—can you say Snooky? Honey Boo-Boo?  Boxers? Or Briefs?  (All those topics have been asked of recent candidates for President, where the candidate’s position on global climate change has NOT been asked.) 
Well, Mother Nature gets the last word.  It’s not nice to fool her.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What A Difference a Day Makes

Well, could you make that a year.  No, how about a decade.  Or two decades--minus one year.

Nineteen years ago, when I was having trouble with my left knee, I had arthroscopic surgery.  I have inherited one of those lovely family genes (from my mother's side) which makes knees (and hips too, I fear) susceptible to extra wear and tear.  As years go by, the grinding increases along with the pain.

Nineteen years ago, my knee decided--yes, it does seem to have a mind of its own--that bending beyond a 90 degree angle was something it would not do.  So, I sought medical help from an orthopedic surgeon.  First stop was an X-ray.  The tech told me to lie on my stomach, and bend my leg as far as I could, so she could take an X-ray pointing down at my recalcitrant knee.  I bent it as far as I could--only to hear her say: can't you bend it more No, I muttered--that's why I am here.

Anyway, the verdict (I suppose I should say diagnosis) was Chondromalacia patella.  It sounds a lot fancier than it is.  In short, it means kneecap pain, which can be caused by wear and tear, torn cartilage, or misalignment of the knee.  Uh huh--I felt like I had all those. 

Eventually, the treatment was an arthroscopic procedure to "clean things out."  I don't know--but there is nothing particularly comforting to me about hearing a doctor say he (or she--but in this case, he) wants to clean things out.  Makes me feel as if I have been an untidy housekeeper of my own self. 

But, I had the procedure.  And, sure enough, I was able to bend my knee more than a 90 degree angle after that.  In my renewed vigor, I thought--well, I can run, and do those wonderful aerobic exercises that help one trim down.  Alas--running caused my knee to balloon in size.  So I stopped that. 

I resigned myself to bad genes and sore knees.  As if I needed final proof, while rummaging through photos in our basement, I came upon a college photo of me in basketball uniform (ooh, remember those cute little basketball pinnies?) and--lo, and behold--I had a brace on my left knee.

Fast forward to 2012.  This year, in a once-again renewed resolve to drop a few pounds, I began cycling (on a stationary bike) as well as continuing my walking of our dog.  I confess, my husband has been walking the dog more than I have, but I do try to get in one walk a day with the dog.  Anyway, the stationary biking turned out to be a bad idea--knee puff again.

So, once again, off to an orthopedic surgeon.  This time, I was less passive--maybe a bit more assertive--and I announced that if I needed a knee replacement, I was ready.  Well, the surgeon said--let's try this.  So first, a cortisone injection, which got me one week of relief.  Not long enough, he admitted, so the next step was an MRI (didn't have that 19 years ago), and arthroscopic surgery.  The MRI showed a torn medial meniscus, hence the anterior pain.

Well, I am now three days post-surgery.  And let's just say--the body doesn't bounce back nearly as fast as it did when I was in my 40s.  And, on top of that, the verdict is:  knee replacement sometime in the future.  How soon?  I will just have to let pain be my guide.

Oh, goody.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

The Fourth Estate

Pardon my absence, but I've been thinking.  And thinking.  And thinking.

I have been wondering whatever happened to journalism or the press in my country.  Certainly, one of the things that has made the United State a great country is our constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press.  The first amendment to our Constitution couldn't be more clear:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

For a quick assessment of what other countries around the world have, you can spend time here reviewing how free the press is in whatever country you want to review.  And, if you are curious where the U.S. ranks compared to other countries, here is one such assessment. 

Freedom of the press is an awesome responsibility.  Over the history of the U.S., heroes of freedom of the press have emerged.  The subject of freedom of the press is one I have visited at various times, including praising some of those heroes.  Names such as John Peter Zenger come to mind.  But so do other names--people who died getting the story.  Since I lived through the years during which the U.S. was fighting in Vietnam, I recall a newsman named Welles Hangen

While I revel in knowing that there have been many brave news people who have served us well, I am also saddened when I think what is happening to our vaunted freedom of the press today. Obviously, among forces at work are the decline of printed press, the rise of electronic media, the decline of the big three networks and the rise of cable.  On top of all that we have the 24/7 relentless breaking news that drives coverage the most absurd stories.  Nightly news coverage now sounds more like promotion for the network bringing you the news. 

The sad thought occurs to me that we don't need to lose freedom of the press--we only need to have such a diminution of the press for that freedom to seem irrelevant.

Doonesbury's cartoon for today (Sunday, October 7) expresses my concern so much more effectively and succinctly.  Please note the source is

Herewith, the wisdom of Doonesbury:

Monday, September 24, 2012

I Remember You

One of the consequences--some might say benefits--of living in one area for a long time is that, having encountered someone once, there is every possibility you may encounter him or her again.

As someone who has taught in two separate colleges over my career life, I do from time to time encounter former students.  My first teaching position was when I was fresh out of graduate school.  For a time after I left that teaching position, I would hear from students, usually someone seeking a recommendation to graduate school.  I was always touched when the former student would begin with "You may not remember me, but..."  Usually I did remember--teachers remember those students who excel, and those who distinguish themselves in some other lesser way.

My more recent teaching position, about which I have written on and off here, ended about two years ago.  And, now I am beginning to encounter these students in varying ways.

The first such encounter happened when my husband and I went out to eat--and our server said--You're Mrs. W., aren't you?  Of course I replied affirmatively.  I thought so, he said, as soon as I heard that voice.  My voice?!  Apparently, I must have sounded off from time to time with an air of authority.  Ahem.

Since then I have encountered several former students--all of them as servers in various restaurants.  Well, the economy sometimes leaves no other options for job seekers.  That first student I described is working as a teacher's aid providing individual support to a student with special needs.  But he also has a young family, so he supplements his income with his weekend serving job.

The other encounters have been mixed.  There was one young woman who we encountered who gushed on--oh, yes she gushed--telling first me and then one of our friends who was along with us how wonderful I was as a teacher.   Blush blush.

Then there was another server who said--you look familiar.  And after a bit, we figured out she had been in one of my classes.  She told me her name--which rang no bells at all.  Then she told me the nickname she went by when she was in my class.  Oh, yes--I remembered.  I went home and checked my grade files (yes, I still have them) and found she has gotten a D in the class--not turning in all your required papers will do that.

Well, I recently had one more encounter with a former student.  My husband and I were invited to a party given in honor of a cousin once removed who had recently become a father.  And along with him would be his partner, who was the baby's mother.  When I learned her name, I kept turning it over in my mind.  And bells were sounding alarms.  Her name was a distinctive one.  So back to my student grade files I went, and there it was.  She had been one of my students.

When we got to the party, I saw her--yes, I had remembered her.  After a bit, she looked at me, and did a bit of a double-take.  No doubt, she was thinking--oh no, not her.  You see--she failed English Composition--because halfway through the course, she stopped turning in papers.  There is no way you can pass when you don't do the work.

Now here she was, the mother of a baby who is a distant relative.  And there I was--no doubt NOT her favorite teacher.  I bet she didn't gush about me to anyone.  But she recognized me.  And I decided not to say anything--no point in embarrassing her. 

But I thought to myself--oh yes, I remember you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What Color is the Sky?

Respond to the question "what color is the sky?"--quickly.  Don't think about it; just blurt out your answer.

Most likely you said "blue"--which is the standard answer we give because--after all--the sky is blue.  Except when it isn't.  Go outside at night and look at the sky.  What color is it?  Or how about on a stormy rainy day.  What color is it then?

It doesn't take long for you to begin to change your answer.  Sometimes the sky is black, sometimes grey, sometimes white.  At sunrise or sunset, it can be glorious shades of pink, purple, salmon.

OK, you say--where is all this speculation going?  Well, here's where.  I happened to catch a fascinating radio program several weeks ago.  I tuned in at the point where the discussion turned to the color blue.  And the story was about a tribe that did not distinguish blue as a distinct color.  To test this, members of the tribe were shown something like the patches of color below.  And they were asked--which one is different? 

What would you answer?  

I would say--all the squares are green, except the one on the lower right which is blue.  Except this tribe did not say that.  They saw no difference in color among the squares. 

The radio show explained a whole lot more about that particular experiment--which you can listen to if you follow the link and stay with the program.  The story led to the introduction on the program of the linguist Guy Deutscher, who writes about how language shapes our perception of reality, and vice versa.  Of course, I am doing great violence to his extensive research and writing.  I just want to get to the point that having a word for something allows you to perceive it.

If you don't have a word for BLUE, can you see blue?  And that's where the question of what color is the sky comes in.  One of the presenters on the radio program talked about conducting an experiment with his daughter who was developing her language skills.  He decided not to tell her the sky was blue.  He would play naming games with her--showing her something and asking what color it was.  But he had enlisted his wife NOT to tell the child that the sky was blue.  

So finally, one day he asked his daughter--what color is the sky?  And she puzzled over it for a time, and then refused to answer.  This interchange was repeated over many days.  And always she would ponder, but not answer.  Finally, one day she tentatively said the sky was blue, no white, no blue.  Back and forth. 

The interplay between language and our perception of reality has startling implications for us all.  We don't all speak the same language, even when we are speaking the same language. 

I used to do a quick little exercise with students to help them understand how changeable language is.  I would ask them if they knew what the word "hussy" meant.  Oh, yes--they would reply.  Then I would pick out one of the young women who seemed to think herself special and I would ask--would you be offended if I called you a hussy?  Of course, she would reply.  But, why?--I asked.  Hussy is simply an abbreviation of the word "housewife."  Perception and reality and the role language plays in it all.

There are so many paths that lead off from this musing of mine.  And I will eschew following any of them.  I will leave you to your own devices.  Perhaps you will wander outside and ponder "what color is the sky?"

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Skewed Morality

I begrudge no one the right to vote for whichever candidate you choose.  However,  as the U.S. presidential campaign shifts into full gear, I am puzzled beyond explanation how some people indicate they are making their choice based on morality, and that consequently there is only one choice: Mitt Romney.

I recently read an article with the tantalizing title of “Should Christians Vote for A Mormon for President?”  (I do not intend to include the link for this article because it is in many ways a very offensive piece; if you are dying of curiosity, you can find it yourself.)  Now, I had several reactions to this piece. 

My first reaction is that I long for our country to have the mindset that we encountered in France: while there, we were informed in point blank language that NO candidate for president would dream of airing/discussing his/her religion.  It just isn’t done. 

My second reaction was—whatever happened to our understanding of Constitutional history in the U.S.?  Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states:  

The Senators and Representatives …, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.   


My third reaction was to read the article and see what the writer concluded.  Surprise, surprise, surprise (as Gomer Pyle would have said).  The writer concludes that three moral issues are paramount:  pro-life (specifically anti-abortion); pro-Biblical marriage (specifically anti-gay marriage); and pro freedom of the church.  I added the parenthetic statements, because the pro-life stance being articulated is focused solely on being against abortion, and the pro-Biblical marriage stance is really aimed only at gays.  As for “freedom of the church,” I don’t know what is meant by that—obviously, we have religious freedom in the U.S., but churches are not free to break the laws of the country.  So, I won’t  address this issue.

So, herewith my fourth reaction.  The first two moral reasons the author articulates are (for me) examples of skewed morality.  Let’s start with the first moral reason—being pro-life.  I object to the term “pro-life”--it is not focused on what happens to a woman who finds herself pregnant under difficult circumstance.  So if you don't care about the woman, you can't be "pro-life."  The current debate that is raging about “legitimate” rape (which has now been amended to “forcible” rape…as if any rape is NOT forcible) has now devolved into statements such as “rape is simply the means of conception, and you shouldn’t punish the resulting child.”  Really?  Rape is just a means of conception?  And that is just the discussion surrounding rape.  What about a woman who learns that the fetus she is carrying has an incurable fatal disease?  A disease such as Tay-Sachs can be detected in utero, and is untreatable, and the eventual child always die prematurely.  Is abortion of such a fetus always wrong?  Usually, the discussion of abortion does not focus on the woman who is already alive and the impact on her of carrying a child conceived through rape to term, or carrying a fatally flawed child.

On the second moral reason, the reason I say that pro-Biblical marriage is only anti-gay marriage is because so-called Biblical marriage means many things.  First, what is Biblical marriage?  Of course, the answer that you get is one-man-one-woman as the automatic response.  But marriage in the Bible presents a vastly more complicated set of options.  The chart below (which comes from shows a more complicated view of marriage.  So, clearly, marriage has been and is an evolving definition.  Marriage has changed over time, and with cultural influences it will CONTINUE to change.

These are not the only reasons I call the author’s conclusion skewed morality.  If as a voter you want to base your vote on Biblical principles, and you only focus on voting against someone who supports abortion or gay-marriage, I suggest there are some Biblical injunctions you are conveniently overlooking.  Since the operating question is for whom should a Christian vote in this election, it seems reasonable to turn to the teachings of Christ.  One of the most frequently mentioned topics in the New Testament (in fact the entire Bible) is poverty and the poor.  Among  the most ringing indictments in Christ’s ministry are his statements against those who neglect the poor.  So, isn’t it reasonable to look at the two candidates and determine which of them has plans to help the poor?  Or, conversely, which of them has policies that will devastate the poor?

Another Biblical value is the need to tell the truth.  Hey, that requirement even made it into the Ten Commandments.  I grant you—applying that standard becomes far more difficult because we all have varying opinions as to what constitutes the truth.  But one didn't have to listen very long to the convention speech made by Romney's choice as running mate to know that truth was in short supply.

Perhaps I need not continue this analysis.  My primary point is this—while acknowledging that we have the right to choose for whom we vote and for what reasons we make that choice—don’t announce your reasons as being Christian or even moral, when it is apparent that the morality measure you use is highly selective and definitely skewed.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

There Is a Balm

Here is a continuation of my a-peeling story in the previous post.

The news is, I am still peeling.  Though a bit less each day.  And, I also received a very gracious letter from the parent company of the product I wrote of in the prior post.  They included several coupons for products in their overall parent company's stable.  Many of those products I use, so I happily accepted the coupons.  One small irony--they also included a coupon for the product I suspect caused my wee predicament in the first place. 

Oh, well.  Two steps forward, one step back.

Now, the balmy part of this post.  I suddenly recalled a product I had first learned about some 30 years ago.  When we had our first (wonderful) English setter--a sweet dog named Shannon--she occasionally developed hot spots.  She would fuss at and lick various places on her paws.  In a casual conversation with a neighbor, she mentioned that what I needed to use was Bag Balm.  This neighbor and her husband had owned a general store in rural central Pennsylvania, and Bag Balm was something they always had on hand.  She gave me a small sample.

Well, it did the trick.  But the history of Bag Balm is quite amusing to me--originally it was developed for farmers to use on cows whose udders became inflamed from milking.  Hence its name--Bag Balm. 

It is very nearly wonder stuff.  It cured the hot spots. 

When I saw it for sale at one of my favorite websites for shopping--the Vermont Country Store--I ordered some.  And it arrived yesterday.  I tried it on my peeling hands--and for now they are becoming soothed and smooth.

Oh, yes, there is a balm.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I'm Appealing

...make that I'm a-peeling.

This is a rather strange tale and my only reason for telling it is a kind of caveat emptor effort.

I recently bought a liquid body soap product.  I am an enthusiastic shopper fan of Costco--a great store with a good record of fair treatment for employees (as far as I know).  And, I really don't mind buying a gross of whatever as long as the product is unlikely to go stale, bad or otherwise deteriorate.  Since I like using a liquid body soap for showering and, since my old favorite wasn't available, I bought a different brand than what I had been getting.

This product was the one pictured here.  I am not naming it perhaps for understandable reasons.  Read on.

Anyway, I began using it.  It really was creamy, and generally worked quite well.  But then...but then, I noticed that when I touched things--for example, petting my cats--things felt extra silky and soft.   Even running my hands over my own hair, it felt...different.  Mildly put-off, I wondered--is this the new soap.

Then, after about a week of using the product, my hands began to peel.  Yes, PEEL.  My skin began peeling off slowly as if I were moulting. 

So, I stopped using the product IMMEDIATELY.  I offered it on Freecycle to others who might have used it.  One woman responded--oh, this stuff is fantastic, so figuring she had used it with no problems, I gave it to her.

Then I wrote to the parent company.  I thought they might want to know that not everyone can tolerate their product.  Here's the answer I got back:
Thank you for contacting us.

We do apologize for the experience you reported concerning our Dxxx Body Wash..
We would like to assist you further. In order for us to do so, please forward the following additional information:

- Your telephone number (daytime, evening, cell, etc.)
- The UPC code (bar code) off of the product
- The manufacturing code off of the packaging
- The store name and address where the product was purchased

Upon receipt, this additional information will be forwarded to our Specialist who will contact you shortly.

Now, understand, I had already filled out an auto-response type form.  Phone number was NOT a required element, so I left it blank intentionally.  I also informed them since I no longer had the product, I did not have a UPC code or a manufacturing code.  I just wanted them to know what effect the product had on me.

Oh, I also ruled out any other variable--no other change in anything: no new laundry detergent, no new food, no new med, etc.

So, now what?  I guess I can contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  Or I can blog.

So, that's my tale of a-peeling.  And my appeal--always always let the buyer beware.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

An Open Letter to the Koch Brothers

When the history of the 21st century is written, historians will portray some as heroes and some as villains.  It is rare, indeed, for the same person to have an opportunity in adult life to be seen as villain and yet have it wholly within his control to become a hero.

Yet such is the case with the Koch brothers.  As history is being written by your actions, you would—as of now—fall into the villain column.  The extent of your villainy is yet to unfold.  But, with no change in course, you will now be tagged as the architects of the destruction of the environment, democracy and the Republican Party.

WOW! You say.  How can we two brothers, Charles and David[i], be responsible for all that?

So, I will summarize how.

First, the environment.  By far, this is the most serious legacy—obviously, without the environment we are all harmed, if not doomed.  You own Koch Industries, reckoned by Forbes to be the second largest privately held company in the United States.  Since you are heavily invested in fossil fuel production, you have not only enabled the world’s continued dependency on these fuels, you have fought environmental regulations at every turn.  You help lead opposition to reducing greenhouse gases.  Some of your activities were detailed in this story published in late 2011 in Bloomberg Markets Magazine.

Next, the Republican Party.  It is now known that much of the funding and impetus in the formation of the so-called Tea Party came from you or organizations you set up and funded.  The New Yorker detailed your political activities in Jane Mayer’s fascinating study.  With the rise of the Tea Party, which continually pushes the Republican Party further and further to the far right, the county is becoming increasingly polarized.  True, there are other causes of that polarization, but the coalescing influence of a kind of third party, which makes more and more in-roads into traditional Republican areas, does not result in a stronger Republican party.  Combine that effect with the vaunted tendency of Tea Party darlings to eschew compromise (witness the rhetoric of someone such as Rand Paul) and the result is not one which makes the Republican Party stronger. 
Finally, democracy.  The Supreme Court bears the blame for the horrific decision in the Citizens’ United case, but you have taken full advantage of the ruling that (as in Mitt Romney’s memorable words) “corporations are people, my friend.”  No limit is placed on money which can be given to super pacs which can practically buy elections.  Maybe not buy in the sense of putting money in someone’s hand and saying “vote for so-and-so” but very nearly that.  When who has the most money can determine the outcome of an election what we have is no longer a democracy.

So, here’s my challenge.  Think how history will portray you.  Think about the future of the world—of the lives of your children and grandchildren.  Is making money so important to you that you don't care if the environment is ruined beyond recovery.  Is controlling the outcome of elections so critical that you can't trust people to make their own decisions without your funding an ersatz political movement? Do you want your role as villains to be solidified?  Or would you rather be heroes?   The choice really is yours.

[i] There are two other brothers— Frederick and William—but in 1983 Charles and David bought out their shares in Koch Industries.

Friday, August 03, 2012


No, not really speechless.  Just wordless for the time being.

I have some ideas rattling around in my head, that will--in due time--make their way to this page.

Meanwhile, I will be watching the Olympics, and that other season of sport--politics.

That is all.

Keep calm and carry on.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Burying Caesar

There are so many circumstances in life where some of the first words that come to my mind, to frame my response to a given situation, are those penned by Shakespeare.
As the continuing tragedy of what happened at Penn State over several decades unfolds, heroes once held high are thrown down and their memories trampled on.  With the sanctions decree of the NCAA being announced today, the words of Mark Anthony came to mind.

As with so many of the long speeches Shakespeare penned for his characters, this one is filled with nuances.  It gives, and it takes away.  I could almost read this speech and substitute Paterno's name for Caesar.  I don't know who would fill in for Brutus, for there have been many who have rendered judgment, sometimes in hopes of claiming higher moral authority than what they believe Paterno possessed.

Paterno has now been cast as the villain.  I don't know if he was or not.  It is all an ex post facto indictment to my thinking.  Since we know the outcome, we look back and at each step where we think Paterno "could have or should have" we render judgment as though he knew the end of it all, even at the beginning.  Of course, that is not possible.  Paterno himself indicated that he wished he had done more.

The Freeh report has painted Paterno as virtually all-knowing and complicit in every way from the beginning.  I am not convinced.  Reading a trail of emails, with indefinite references at times, can cause the reader to reach false conclusions, and having reached those conclusions can then give the reader the framework upon which to build a searing indictment of culpability. 

One administrator writes "after talking with Joe..." and the Freeh report concludes that Joe then knew.  But did he?  Do we trust the third hand report?  Too many questions. 

In case you have forgotten the Mark Anthony speech that you may have memorized in school, here it is.  You can substitute Paterno for Caesar, if you wish.  There is a certain resonance in doing that.  And while you are substituting, perhaps the name Freeh stands in for Brutus.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest--
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men--

Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.

He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.

You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Social Contract

It's been a long time since I studied philosophy, and I have no intention of trying to explain the nuances of the concept of the social contract in this post.  But, given that it is the Fourth of July, it seemed like an opportune time to muse a bit on the way in which we interact and support other humans.

The essence of the social contract is as follows:  "Social contract theory.... is the view that persons’ moral and/or political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreement among them to form the society in which they live. "  (Source--Social Contract Theory)  To form society, people agree to be governed, and to not always advance only their own selfish interests.  They agree to "all just get along."

One of the most stirring speeches I ever heard was when the late congresswoman Barbara Jordan delivered the keynote address at the 1976 Democratic Convention.  You can read her words here, but nothing can replace hearing that stirring sonorous voice ring out again and again as she asked:  Who then will speak for the common good.

1976 seems like ages ago--far more than 3 decades.  It seems like centuries ago.  Barbara Jordan's call for the common good has been replaced with disciples of Ayn Rand who advocate a heartless sink-or-swim approach to human needs.  These voices dominate the political discourse today.

During the Republican primaries in this election cycle, we heard various candidates asked questions about whether we have any obligation to mutual support--say, as in the concept of health insurance.  In one instance, a candidate was asked a hypothetical about a young man who chose not to purchase health insurance and then becomes sick.  The question was--should we (i.e. society) just let him die.  What was really stunning were the loud yells from the audience crying out--YES, LET HIM DIE.

Now that the Supreme Court has determined that the Affordable Care Act is "constitutional" we see the sides lining up again.  The presumed Republican nominee is vowing that "what the Supreme Court didn't do, I will do on my first day as President."  How sad--that to appeal to a segment of the electorate we have a man who accomplished, while governor of a state, the very kind of affordable care approach now ensconced in what has been dubbed Obamacare.   That's not a flip flop on Romney's part--it's a loss of his soul.

How did we get here?  When these UNITED States were being formed, the best minds at the time began the document on which rest all our laws with--WE, THE PEOPLE.  

I hear various people yelling about "freedom"--as though the definition of that word is that no one can tell anyone what or how to do anything.  Freedom?  I'd say that's anarchy.

Here's a little rabbit side trail--I am struck with the irony that many people who identify themselves as conservatives disdain the theory of evolution.  And yet, these same folk seem perfectly content to practice social Darwinism--survival of the fittest is just fine.

OK--we're back.  I ascribe to a philosophy that we are all inter-connected.  We all have a responsibility to the other--we are our brother's keepers.  John Donne captured the sentiment of our inter-connectedness with his famous Meditation XVII--"any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

Oh, and if you really want to celebrate what the Fourth of July is all about, go read Barbara Jordan's speech.

Here endeth the sermon.
Photo from

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Human Experience

Something about Nora Ephron’s death has touched me deeply.  I think it’s partly her wonderful snarkiness which is being remembered, and the way she celebrated women’s experiences as captured in her screen plays and movies.

But, the most touching detail of all about her life to emerge is her list.  Her collection of essays entitled “I Remember Nothing” included two lists: things she will miss and things she won’t miss.  Among the things she won’t miss are—dry skin; taking off makeup every night; panels on women in film; Clarence Thomas…read the whole list for yourself.  Among the things she will miss are—her kids; fall; reading in bed…

The list ends “Taking a bath; Coming over the bridge to Manhattan; Pie.”  That closing raises such a lump in my throat.  And, then I realize—what she is saying she will miss is the human experience.

It is such a trite and obvious observation that it hardly seems worth noting but the only way we experience anything is through our existence.  We are born humans and that is how we perceive and know all we know.

A while back in this blog I posted a poem I had written in 2006.  Herewith—


This is a road on which
The only detour is death.
The body ages undeniably
There is no turning back
So helplessly you watch—
As skin sags
And flesh congeals
But you keep on living

The lure of living is knowledge
In death there is no knowing
So you live because you want to know.

By Donna F. W.
© March 2006
Among the comments I received on that post was one from my father who suggested: “how about writing a sequel to "Knowing", about life after exchanging this land of the dying for the land of the living, one pointing to eternal death, and eternal life?”

Well, I never did write such a poem.  I am firmly planted in this life’s experience.  I do not deny that some people believe in another existence to come.  It simply is for me that whatever we believe is born out of our human experience and understanding in this world.  We can’t really KNOW if there is anything else.

So, Nora Ephron’s list touches me deeply.  When the human experience draws to a close, there will be things we will NOT miss and things we do miss.  Perhaps the most compelling thing is the ability to experience any of it.